News Column

Women are held back in classical music, says Southbank Centre director

January 25, 2014

Maev Kennedy,

Women are being held back in the classical music world by deliberate prejudice and refusal to introduce family-friendly work policies, according to Jude Kelly , artistic director of the Southbank Centre , which is among the country's leading classical music venues. Although orchestras are full of female musicians, the top of the profession is still "a place of too great an absence for women", Kelly said, adding to a debate fanned last year by eminent male conductors insisting there was no place for women on the podium. "Women still tell me stories of how they find that orchestras can be hostile, can undermine them deliberately, that executive directors can be sceptical. Why was there such a set of quotes from eminent men querying the idea of Marin Alsop conducting the Last Night of the Proms?" Kelly said. Male orchestra directors must make a conscious decision to promote female musicians, she said. "People tend to appoint in their own image. It's a tendency of men to support other, younger men and feel paternalistic towards them. We have to encourage them to support women." Kelly was speaking at the launch of the Southbank's 2014/15 season, which will include work by several female composers including Stevie Wishart and Anna Clyne . The debate about how few women hold senior positions in the classical music world took off last year when the Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko claimed orchestral musicians could be distracted by the erotic charms of a female conductor , saying that "a sweet girl on a podium can make one's thoughts drift towards something else". A fellow Russian, Yuri Temirkanov , gave an interview to a Russian paper, translated in the New Yorker , insisting that "the essence of the conductor's profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness". Bruno Mantovani , head of the Paris Conservatoire, waded in, talking about "the problem of maternity" , and also suggesting that women lack the physical strength for the job which he described as "conducting, taking a plane, taking another plane". Marin Alsop , who became the first female conductor to tackle the Last Night of the Proms in its 118-year history, lashed back. "There is no logical reason to stop women from conducting. The baton isn't heavy," she said. Alsop, adored by critics and audiences, said that she had regularly encountered prejudice, once overhearing a musician say, as she stepped onto the podium: "Oh man, it's a girl." Kelly said family responsibilities such as childcare were very important : "The assumption historically is that it's only women who worry about this. It can't only be women. If society wants women to reach their potential and contribute, society has to care about it."

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Source: Guardian Web

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